Willie Colón

La Historia: The Hit List

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Shortly after Emusica Records released The Player: A Man and His Music, a double-disc compilation of Willie Colón's Fania output spanning a 20-year period, from the mid-'60s to the mid-'80s, Sony BMG countered with a decade-spanning compilation of its own, La Historia: The Hit List. The big difference is, Colón's Fania output greatly overshadows his recordings for Sony, which came later, mostly in the 1990s. Not that Colón's Sony efforts were poor. They're quite good, in fact. It's still the same Willie Colón, after all, and he's still in good voice, if less lively than he had been during his prime. As for the music accompanying that voice on the Sony recordings, on the other hand, it doesn't come close to rivaling that of the Fania All-Stars. No question about it, the salsa sounds of the '90s -- the work of Sergio George notwithstanding -- generally pale in comparison to those of the '70s. And so it is with Colón's later work for Sony: it pales in comparison to his prime, when he was a leader of the Fania movement. La Historia: The Hit List brings this distinction into clear relief, for it includes a handful of Fania classics ("Che Che Colé," 1969; "Pedro Navaja," 1977; "Usted Abusó," 1978; "¿Oh Qué Será?," 1981) under license from Emusica, in addition to ten Sony recordings from the '90s and one RCA recording from the '80s ("Copacabana, Ipanema, Leblon," Criollo, 1984). The four Fania songs are front-loaded here, and indeed, they kick-start La Historia: The Hit List in grand fashion. Boasting respective lead vocals by Héctor Lavoe, Rubén Blades, and Celia Cruz, these songs are timeless classics. From here, La Historia: The Hit List can only dip in quality, and following a couple more standouts ("Copacabana, Ipanema, Leblon" and "El Gran Varón"), the music downshifts gears, from great to good. Nonetheless, La Historia: The Hit List is a welcome addition to Colón's catalog, which had been lacking a high-quality Sony-era compilation. In the end, it's debatable whether the Fania inclusions bolster or detract from this compilation of songs. It's understandable why Sony BMG would license them -- they're among Colón's best-known songs ever, and they add considerable value to this package -- yet at the same time, their inclusion makes the remainder of the songs here sound lackluster in comparison.

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